• Sat. May 14th, 2022

Strong support staff help Jake Oettinger become a star

ByJulie J. Helfer

May 9, 2022

When you look for the first time Jake Oettinger‘s numbers, it seems to be an overnight sensation.

The 23-year-old goalie is 2-1 with a 1.01 goals-against average and .969 save percentage in his first three playoff starts. It’s amazing, really.

But when you look at the work behind the scenes, Oettinger has been preparing for this moment for years. Not only did he play huge games in high school, college, and world juniors, but he received top-notch training at the pro level.

When the pandemic caused the playoff bubble in 2020, Oettinger was asked to be among the extra players. He observed that he had to start in the Edmonton enclosure, then finally made his way to the bench and the ice. After Ben Bishop was injured, Oettinger was elevated to substitute for Anton Khudobin. He watched 21 playoff games from the bench and participated in practices as the Stars battled through to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He also played in two games, making his NHL debut while allowing no goals on eight shots.

“It was huge for me,” Oettinger said. “Just to be this close and observe, it was amazing.”

Oettinger said he actually took advantage of the fact that there were no fans in the building and had to regroup with his teammates. Mix in a lot of time with goaltending coach Jeff Reese and Bishop and Khudobin, and it was a pretty intense class.

Teammate Tyler Seguin says it continued this year with the veteran Braden Holtby.

“He was around guys like Anton and seeing the work ethic of Holtby and guys like Bish, he kind of got into the perfect environment. He did a great job,” Seguin said.

Oettinger also had a pedigree even before he got to the bubble. The Stars moved up in the 2017 draft to take him in the first round (26th overall), so he definitely had talent. He’s listed at 6-5, 220, so he’s an athletic specimen. In fact, he says he understands its size and uses it regularly. When he stopped Johnny Gaudreau on a breakaway late in Game 3 while protecting a 3-2 lead, Oettinger said it was pretty routine play.

“I felt like he didn’t have room to move, so I thought he was going to shoot,” Oettinger said. “You just have to go over there and remove some ice. I’m a pretty big goalie, and I think if I go there there won’t be much to shoot at.

It is this pragmatic attitude that earns the trust of his teammates. Seguin said he knew Oettinger thought he could compete at this level, but also said he didn’t come across as “arrogant”.

“He’s not afraid of the moment, he wants the ball,” Seguin said. “You could tell from day one he had that chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t have the arrogance because he’s still a sponge.”

That sponge factor is where influences from guys like Bishop, Khudobin and Holtby helped. Oettinger works with Reese every day and has learned a lot from the veteran. However, having players like Bishop and Holtby there to just chat about being a goalkeeper has been invaluable.

Rick Bowness was an assistant coach at Tampa where Bishop helped the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Finals and said the man who saw his career end in injury last season had a special spirit.

“Bishop is a real pro, he’s very smart and he’s got a ton of experience,” Bowness said. “He really has a smart mind for hockey. When he was playing with us, I would ask him ‘What do you see over there?’ and you would get an accurate answer because he was very smart.”

Holtby won a Stanley Cup and a Vezina Trophy with Washington, and he was also open to sharing his experience. He is also out at the moment with an injury. Shuffle into the newly acquired save Scott Wedgewoodand Oettinger had a great support group.

“Holtby was a big influence on him,” Bowness said. “Braden is a wonderful character guy, a team guy, he won a cup, won a Vezina, he knows the shooters, he knows how to deal with a partner, so there was tremendous confidence there. And I give Scott a lot of credit because we didn’t know him, but he came and was a positive influence on Jake as well.”

That said, it is Oettinger who must stop. He said that while he was able to observe many of those Calgary players in the bubble, that’s not the information he gets from the experience. Instead, he remembers the mood when the Flames took a 2-1 series lead and were about to wrap up Game 4. Then, Joe Pavelsky scored with 11 seconds left, Dallas won in overtime and the Stars went on to a two-game winning streak.

“The biggest thing I learned is that sometimes it feels like you’re going to be playing golf in three days and the next thing you know you’ve won the series,” Oettinger said. “So obviously this streak is far from over.”

And that’s a pretty mature prospect for a guy just getting started.

“That’s what it’s all about, it’s playoff hockey,” Oettinger said. “When I was younger, every night was playoff hockey, so being in the position I’m in now is what I’ve been preparing for all my life.”

This story has not been submitted for endorsement by the National Hockey League or the Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a senior writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.